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Not

a Good Woman
Everyday Mysticism
Jul 8 · 14 min read

Great love is supposed to equal great goodness, but not if you love
everyone. Not if your heart is wild. Mine is, so in the end, I am no good.
Not to any man, because I cannot toe the line.

Women are supposed to be passionate, but not like me. My passion is


the problem. And the fact that I collect people like flowers.

Plus the fact that I am in love with every flower in the bouquet.

The one whose bike I held. This may have been the most true I have
ever been to someone of the male persuasion. I was eight. It was a
gorgeous spring morning and I had on my yellow dress. Skinny legs
sticking out below it. I held onto his bike seat and handles when he
went to play. I waited a long time, but I was happy. Because that
morning, he had spoken to me. I looked around and thought, “I am
happier now than I have ever been in my life. I will never forget this.” I
opened and shut my eyes, taking imaginary pictures. Memorizing the
Virgin Mary statue set into the wall, the curve of the road, the old
houses with their wooden beams, and even the sound of the chickens
clucking in the neighor’s yard. And I never did forget, either. Thirty
years later, I went back to that tiny village in Germany and walked to
the spot without even a map.

The shiny one. I am not good because the first time I had sex, it was not
with the person I was dating, a man who spent his time trying to bend
my mind to his through long philosophical arguments — but rather with
a knight in shining armor in a tent at a medieval recreation. He split my
soul in half, shattering my whole construction of myself with one blow
of his sword. And as soon as my body held two instead of one, I saw
God. I spent the next thirty years writing about it. About how God heals
us in our deepest experiences of beauty. About the unconditional love
and mercy of a divine being who can become part of us. About our
ultimate worthiness in the eyes of that God. I was granted a master’s
degree for my work.

Again, proof of my fallenness. I had been a good Catholic girl before


that, before I went to seminary. Which was supposed to be for men
studying to be priests. Not somewhere you put your beautiful daughter.
My mother felt ashamed and left my seminary degree out of the
Christmas letter. Never mind that it was a master’s degree and that I
had been only one of two who graduated that year because the
coursework was so stringent. “People will think you don’t know what
you’re doing with your life,” she told me. Women weren’t supposed to
have a voice in the Catholic church. I had something to say about God
and knew in my bones that it was true, but I’d had to leave the church
to say it. Therefore, I was not good.

The one with eyes of blue. I looked into them years ago and it was as if I
could feel my heart leaving my body. Purest blue, like those of the man
I first loved. Ocean blue, were the eyes of that piping teacher. He had a
grey shirt and on the days he wore it, his eyes took on the tempestuous
swirls of an underground whirlpool. I slipped once and told him I was
in love with him. But I was married and not supposed to be having
thoughts like that. This accidental confession was followed by an
episode of crying in the bathroom at work. I had not loved like that for
about twenty years. Oops. Certainly not the best of behaviors.

Nor am I good when I love other women. My heart is supposed to move


toward men, which it does, more or less. But how am I supposed to
know what is true about me when I have not been given a choice
before? Not a real choice, anyway. Have children and love a man who
can give you them, or lose everything. I got married and lost everything
anyway.

We have this in common, women. We lay it all down for a man. Like
that box you check on the tax forms where it says, “all property is at
risk.” Yes. Women are vulnerable like this. So I treasure the women in
my bouquet. The way we love means that we can be completely
devastated.

The rose. She was dressed as a pirate last week, this strong woman
whom I love dearly. A jaunty feather stuck in her hat. Thigh-high boots.
And for the first time, I wondered what she would look like during sex.
How her face would change. What sounds would come from her chest,
from her throat. I imagined how it would feel to be a man, inside all of
that power. I imagined being able to make her feel that good. This is not
a thing I think about men. For this reason, too, I am not a good woman.
My love cannot be chained.

The lily. I could not take my eyes off her — her full lips, her breasts. The
goodness that shone out every time she smiled. Like a real-live princess,
she was. She mentioned how she had nowhere to go but home after our
party, and how boring that was. I considered her husband, huge and
full of muscle. Kind smile, too. “You are married to one of the best-
looking men in town,” I reminded her. “You get to go home to him.” She
smiled at me. Today her husband looked over and waved. I did not
wave back, pretending I had forgotten my glasses. He knows what I
think of him now, which makes me not a good woman.

The forgotten flower, known only by her absence. This is the woman
who slept in my last lover’s bed some time before I did. Her desperate
pleading nearly broke his phone during our first date. He had to turn it
off, leaving her completely alone in her grief. He rolled his eyes, smiled
at me, and turned a bit more toward me on his couch. I think it was
then that he lost me. He proceeded to tell me, with pride, that he had
thrown out the entire set of sheets and the duvet she had slept on
because he was sure I would hate her, and he wanted me in his bed.
That washing his sheets was not enough. Her presence had to be
purged. For me. This action had been necessary because she had laid
her fine body down on those sheets and had allowed her hair to cascade
across his pillows. She had looked into his eyes and had taken what he
gave her. A woman who, like me, saw something in him. I might even
know her if I saw her on the street. What a waste to throw away those
sheets.

“Just tell me you want me,” he demanded a few weeks later. “It’s
simple.” But it wasn’t. I had seen a picture of him with an ex. She
peeked out from behind him, her eyes large and delicate. Like King
Kong and Fae Rae, they were. I was certain that she possessed the
sublety he lacked. That she had needed him the way we need a large,
blunt club when confronted with a tiger. Because life is scary. At those
times, we’re not looking for a precision tool. No perfectly calibrated
engineer’s compass. We want someone to blast through our walls and
splinter sunlight into our darkest places, which is what he did, I’m sure.
I know because this was exactly how he made love. This man was
forceful with his light-giving. Sweet afterward. So I could never hate
her, the recipient of whatever love now caused her to cast aside her
pride and call him night and day. Poor woman.

The younger one. My husband’s partner. She is beautiful. Even though


she is my upgrade, I still cannot hate her. She knows I have her back.
Today she dropped off a little girl who now sleeps in my daughter’s bed.
Together with my son, all three children are being raised as siblings —
in a family with two parents. Neither parent in that household is me. I
am an afterthought at best and a dreadful inconvenience at worst. It
took my husband exactly ten days to secure a new woman, who will
apparently last over the long term.

“You love her,” my therapist said, and I had to admit it. She is brave and
strong. I see myself in her, but with one more evolutionary click. She
went into a situation I could not handle and she managed it. She threw
out the broken things I was not allowed to touch and painted in colors I
was not allowed to use. Clearly, she is doing a better job. I wanted her
life to be easier than mine with him. So I left her the dryer and the best
of whatever else I could manage without. I knew what she would have
to put up with.

Tonight she bent over her daughter before she left and I looked at her
backside and thought, This, my husband is familiar with. He has had sex
with her in all the ways, and her body is better than mine. They have
everything in common. Still, I could not make myself hate her.

Everyone thinks I am crazy to take care of her beautiful girl. They think
I am a pushover. A doormat. But you know what? She lost her husband
to cancer, leaving her with a two-year-old who would never know her
own father. Now she is with a controlling man who smells bad because
he refuses to wear deodorant. I know because I put up with that smell
for twelve years. It lingered in everything. Apparently he bathes for her.
But she may not be as strong as she seems, especially not if she gets
pregnant and he starts controlling her body for the sake of the baby.

And I was the one who told her to follow her heart before she moved up
here for him. It is as if I have sold her a bad car. I need to be there in
case it breaks down. I continue to watch, to make sure she is OK. This,
also, makes me not a good woman. My love of my husband’s partner.

Onward and upward. Way up. Six-foot-one up. Here we have the
devastatingly red one. Now this is the man I left my husband for. It was
not the abuse or the house that my husband would not heat. It was not
the way he controlled me or the fact that my infant son and I almost
didn’t survive the early days of that marriage. What finally got me out
was unrequited love. It burned so hot that I couldn’t force my body to
be with anyone else. Not even my husband.

And on the day this Norse giant told me he could never be with me, he
wanted a hug. It was the first and last time we touched. It was weird.
The feel of him was not at all what I had expected.

Today he leans over the counter at the swimming pool and my eyes
drift downward, grazing the broad shoulders and the arrow of his
waistline to his butt. My breath catches, as always. He is talking to a
beautiful woman with a kicking body. She flips her hair and her
fingertips stroke the counter while they speak. The way she is leaning
over it, with her butt in the air, makes me wonder. He’s probably had
her, since he’s been with all the women in town. They love him, but
then are devastated when he leaves. When he does not allow them
contact with his son any longer. And the mothers of his children do not
want anything to do with him, except to occasionally beg him to give
them more. He is too handsome for his own good, his dimples almost
lethal.

A friend of mine told me about his before I left my husband, that this
man was the giver of children. Before I, too, fell in love with him and
watched my life fall apart. I saw the beautiful children he had made
with the fire inside him and God help me, I wanted that fire inside of
me, too. I wanted to be immersed in it, to feel his breathing. To hold a
tender baby who would grow up and move the world. His babies have
hair like fire, reminiscent of a time when this man wore a halo of red
himself. His body still carries the pattern, passing it on to all future
children — the gift of some fiery fertility God. I wanted to worship at
that altar. In fact, I knew my marriage was over when I was having sex
with my husband and almost cried out, “Yes! Give me those red-headed
babies!”

My husband has brown hair and there is not a single redhead in his
lineage. Here again is clear evidence that I am not a good woman. On,
now, with my tale of woe.

Ah, yes. The beautiful orange tulip who won. Long, auburn hair, which
she tosses when she smiles. Now this woman I really should hate, but
again, I cannot. She took the red one once he decided I was no good,
although I would have given him anything. I should definitely hate her.
But . . . her eyes are too blue and I sense the softness underneath her
shell. I have seen her clean toilets, which she did next door to the room
where I was teaching music. I regretted my privilege then, the fact that
I was born into a musical family. I could remember my mother’s gentle
hands over mine, teaching me how to play piano as a child. But this
woman slept in a closet when she was little and now worked three jobs.
So I felt that she should have anything good that she got, including the
man I loved so desperately. I knew that she was better for him than I
was. She would stay with him and give him what he needed — stability.
Because she was a good woman and I was not. She would love him the
right way, not secretly longing for anybody else in her heart, not her
dead lover and certainly not all her exes who stood in a resplendent line
of open arms and big hearts. Or big whatevers. This woman would
appropriately hate any woman who got too close to him, and that made
her good. And he would welcome her jealousy. Perhaps it even pleased
him and make him feel loved. For this, I should have hated her. But I
couldn’t.

Still together, the two of them are beautiful. They are true and love only
each other. They have seen each other naked, have spoken together in
their own dialect, and even come from the same social class — which is
important to him.

But I am from a foreign country, a legal alien. Nobody talks like me


here. Plus I am a bit short on hate, which is apparently the local
currency. So I stomp up to the top of the hill and pray for the two of
them in whatever house they might be that night. I consider the nightly
tooth brushing, the kissing of the beautiful red-headed son, and the
crawling into their deep bed. With my mind I touch the fiery head of his
son, the child I rocked once when he skinned his knee. I consider how
any baby of theirs would undoubtedly light up the world with its fine
hair. And how a child he might have given me would probably have
been blonde. But oh, what a ride it would have been.

And then, for the first time, the pain I am causing myself brings
jealousy. Ah, so this is what it must feel like to be a good woman.
Because she, the lovely orange tulip, has been taken down by his love in
a way I will never be. The day I found out they were a couple, I could
not make it home without pulling over to the side of the road and
weeping, hunching down in my car because people in this town talk, so
pain has to be private. It comes when I remember that she has had his
love inside her and has allowed it to break her open, build her up, and
make her fly. Now she walks around town laughing.

Today she smiled at me and waved casually as she drove by, her round
little body ensconced in her beep-beep car, protected from the outside
world. She is the keeper of the secret. She knows how he looks. And by
the way, I am not a threat. Even though I’m a belly dancer. I am not a
threat because I choose not to be one. I love them too much.

By now she must even be immune to his voice, which I feel going
through the floor at the swimming pool from several feet away, moving
up through my legs and into my guts. I do not even need to see him to
know that he is there. That vibration gives him away. If only I could
have touched him. If only. And she knows how he feels, whether the
hair on his arms is coarse or soft. She knows his reaction when the back
of his neck is touched. She has gasped for breath beneath him while he
pushed her body to its limits, leaving her in a limp-boned state of grace.

But these thoughts just make me sad. They don’t make me hate her. I
seem to be incapable of it. I cannot even hate my ex, although he
continues to refer to me by my first name to my children so that
sometimes they forget to call me “Mommy.”

“He is having a bad time of it,” I explain to a friend who has just found
out. A bad time of it, indeed.

I do not hate, so I may not be a good woman. But I’m actually pretty
sure that it makes me a good person. Well, hallelujah!

I’m still not getting laid.

I saw the guy on the street last week, the one who fixes our
underground electrical works. Funnily enough, this was the first man
whose gaze gave me sparks after I left my husband — and had sworn off
sex because it made my heart crunch down into nothingness. The look
on his face opened me up again, yet he has never touched me. Not then
and not now.

I’d had a spare ticket to a concert. Not one person in two towns had
been able go with me, athough everyone knew I was going. He
apologized because he couldn’t go, either. I almost said, “It’s OK. I’m
not a good woman. I will never be faithful to you because my heart
loves so many people. Because I see beauty in everyone.” Swallowing, I
imagine would have pathetically said the worst of it then, “I cannot give
up my place in the world because I have already done so. I cannot suffer
doing dishes in a freezing house because I have been there. I cannot be
deprived of my home because I own it. I cannot be what you want.”

I cannot be like a roll of disposable paper towels anymore. My


worthiness as a good woman has plumb run out.

But his grin tells me he likes to laugh and I have been told that I am a
lot of fun. Which makes me . . . what? I need some gender-neutral term
for whatever I am. Called to love the group, perhaps. I remember the
first time I felt the call to the ministry. It has never really gone away.
My love of both men and women means that I can see and nurture the
beautiful in anybody. Which has to make me at least a little bit good.
Like the dog you thought would be a good watchdog, but who turns out
to be a lapdog. His butt waggles furiously at everyone. Good and bad
alike. To this dog, all people are the same.

Just as they are to me. Beautiful flowers, every one. And we are all
good.